Archive for August, 2006

Blog fame at last

31/08/2006

My thrilling blog has been quoted in the Gulf News’ Tabloid section.
Although I’m a Gulf News subscriber, I missed the article – it may be lurking in the flat somewhere still, so I’ll have to have a look and frame it for posterity. I used to get letters printed in the Gulf News every once in a while, usually about traffic, but haven’t written for a year or so. It’s nice to see they still seek my learned opinion.
It goes to show that people read what you write. A blog can start off as a bit of fun to keep your friends and parents in touch with what you’re up to. Before you know it, you’re being quoted in the national press…

Hummertastic

22/08/2006

Aaron was kind enough to let me drive his new Hummer H3 around Dubai yesterday. Thankfully we stuck to the motorway, as I wouldn’t fancy manoeuvring it around Bur Dubai or Deira. I even managed to park it between the white lines at a shopping mall we went to.
When your usual drive is a Jeep Wrangler, anything else is bound to feel pretty luxurious. The H3 seemed very smooth and comfy and was almost silent at 120Kmh. Visibility is quite poor, but the mirrors make up for the large blind spots. No Nissan Sunnies were crushed during my drive at least.
I can’t wait to see what it’s like in the desert. I have some concerns over its weight and power – the Wrangler probably has a bit more oomph in it for those longer climbs and softer situations, but I’d imagine the H3 is highly likely to simply blast its way quietly along in rather more comfort. It’s a tonne heavier than the Jeep, so I expect I might finally get a chance to use my snatch rope, once I’ve upgraded my front and rear shackles.
One of the ME4x4 members used to have a seriously customised H2. It’s only problem was that it took three people to lift the extra large spare tyre off the back door, along with a massive jack to be able to fit it. It was a bit impractical, to be frank.
Looking at the H3 web page (which I can’t link to thanks to its hideous Flash and pop up design) I see that the H3 and the American Red Cross have teamed up in some kind of sponsorship deal.
I can imagine the look on the face of helpless victims of natural disasters when the Red Cross arrive with nothing but a pair of tweezers, the rest of their storage space having had to be used to store spare fuel cans.
A fun car you’d only get the chance to have in the Gulf. Why not, if you’ve got the chance and can take the ribbing from your friends with good humour?

Automated Dubai

21/08/2006

Getting in and out of Dubai these days is a really easy task.
I can check in online with Emirates, pre-book a taxi using an automated phone service and whizz through passport control with my eGate card. It saves me a lot of time and makes life a lot easier. When you’re in and out on an almost weekly basis these things make a big difference.
I hope this time the driver goes to the front of my building and not the back. I ordered a cab the other day using the phone system and got a call from a number I didn’t recognise about 15 minutes before the cab was due. On answering, my eardrums were assaulted by someone screaming ‘backside, backside, backside’ at me down the phone. It took me a while to realise this wasn’t a crank call – it was actually my cab driver telling me that he’d chosen to park around the back.

Clone a phone

21/08/2006

I spent some time today fiddling with Bluetooth and my Sony K700i to get it synch’d with my laptop, Palm Pilot and my internal Sun web based calendar. I thought this would be a simple task, given the length of time Bluetooth, Windows and Sony have been around, but this didn’t prove to be the case. Eventually everything suddenly worked, for no apparent reason – let’s hope it keeps doing so.
During my experiments I came across an excellent open source phone management tool called FMA, which proved to be pretty handy. Never again will I need to wonder what the temperature of my phone is. A quick link to FMA over Bluetooth and my laptop and all the phone related info I never thought I’d need is there for me. I have to wonder why it takes a group of volunteers to create such a cool application when phone vendors themselves could improve their offering by writing something themselves.
One tool that really seems to be missing is the ability to back up all the personalised data on a phone. Aaron’s lent me his old K750i, which is a nice upgrade from my current phone. Whilst I know I can copy all my contacts across without any issues, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to copy across something equally important to me – all the words I’ve entered into the phone’s dictionary.
I send a lot of text messages, something the phone’s predictive text makes very easy. Predictive text is excellent, but for obvious reasons it doesn’t contain words like ‘Solaris’, ‘Al Bustan’, ‘SGD’ and suchlike. After 6 months the dictionary’s filled up with lots of my custom entries and I really don’t fancy having to re-enter them into every new phone I acquire over the years to come.
It seems to me that mobile phone makers could do a bit more to endear their particular brand to business users. Creating a loyal following by making the interface cuter and by including a free darts game is one thing. I think using standard cabling, providing synch tools that work without fiddling and making it easy to back up all the features on a phone would probably be far more effective. IT managers looking to standardise on one vendor (or solitary desktop sales managers in Dubai thinking of ditching Sony for Nokia) are far more likely to stick to the brand they’re already using if the upgrade process is made as painless as possible.

You won’t hear this from many other landlords in Dubai

19/08/2006

I received a letter from our property company about renewing my lease the other week. It contains the immortal line ‘your rent will stay the same as last year’.
I’m breathing a big sigh of relief. Well done Union Properties.

Islamabad

19/08/2006

Apart from the rather brutal flight schedule, my trip to Islamabad went well.
I met an excellent partner, with a team of highly skilled, proactive engineers, got the chance to see a bit of the town, including a visit to the Hot Spot, one of Islamabad’s older hangouts.
Islamabad, or at least what I saw of it, is quite different to Lahore. It’s clear it’s a newer city that’s had some planning put into its design, as opposed to having evolved over a longer period of time. The driving was certainly less chaotic, although I did shut my eyes on a couple of occasions.
Unfortunately I left my camera in my room and didn’t get any pics of the incredible decorated trucks that drive around. These are pretty amazing – great clunking machines grinding along the road, with every square inch covered in decorations and painted designs.
My hotel, the Serena, was excellent. Free fast Internet access, free mini bar, a beautifully done up room – plus very heavy security when driving in.
Most of the taxis seem to be small Suzukis. As in Africa, lots of them have stickers on the back with incongruous messages. My favourites were ‘Cookies!’, ‘The ride thanks for tomorrow see ya’ and ‘Tension’. Lots of them had small Union Jacks stuck on the rear bumper or mud flaps, but noone I asked about this knew why.
Pakistan levies high taxes on imported cars, so most of the vehicles you see are smaller saloons. The taxis are a case in point – I believe vehicles under 1300cc are exempt from these duties, so a small Suzuki is much more affordable than larger Corolla or Camry. Apart from two new Land Rovers, I didn’t see a single British make. There were quite a few older Jeeps and Toyota FJs around, most with big tyres, as well as seats pinched off more comfy Japanese models.
The tax has encouraged various manufacturers to set up local factories and I was told that Honda and Toyota have invested, as well as a few others. Apparently there’s even a locally designed and produced saloon, but we didn’t spot one.
I know that most of my readers only read this blog for my encounters with plug sockets across the world. The buildings I was in seemed to have taken the most practical approach. Each socket was essentially a multi-plug adaptor that appeared to be able to cater for everything from the one true plug to fiddly euro-sparkers.
I’m looking forward to my next visit, principally because the project we’re working on is a pretty exciting one. Let’s hope that next time the flight schedule will be a bit more Chris friendly.

Islamabad

19/08/2006

Apart from the rather brutal flight schedule, my trip to Islamabad went well.
I met an excellent partner, with a team of highly skilled, proactive engineers, got the chance to see a bit of the town, including a visit to the Hot Spot, one of Islamabad’s older hangouts.
Islamabad, or at least what I saw of it, is quite different to Lahore. It’s clear it’s a newer city that’s had some planning put into its design, as opposed to having evolved over a longer period of time. The driving was certainly less chaotic, although I did shut my eyes on a couple of occasions.
Unfortunately I left my camera in my room and didn’t get any pics of the incredible decorated trucks that drive around. These are pretty amazing – great clunking machines grinding along the road, with every square inch covered in decorations and painted designs.
My hotel, the Serena, was excellent. Free fast Internet access, free mini bar, a beautifully done up room – plus very heavy security when driving in.
Most of the taxis seem to be small Suzukis. As in Africa, lots of them have stickers on the back with incongruous messages. My favourites were ‘Cookies!’, ‘The ride thanks for tomorrow see ya’ and ‘Tension’. Lots of them had small Union Jacks stuck on the rear bumper or mud flaps, but noone I asked about this knew why.
Pakistan levies high taxes on imported cars, so most of the vehicles you see are smaller saloons. The taxis are a case in point – I believe vehicles under 1300cc are exempt from these duties, so a small Suzuki is much more affordable than larger Corolla or Camry. Apart from two new Land Rovers, I didn’t see a single British make. There were quite a few older Jeeps and Toyota FJs around, most with big tyres, as well as seats pinched off more comfy Japanese models.
The tax has encouraged various manufacturers to set up local factories and I was told that Honda and Toyota have invested, as well as a few others. Apparently there’s even a locally designed and produced saloon, but we didn’t spot one.
I know that most of my readers only read this blog for my encounters with plug sockets across the world. The buildings I was in seemed to have taken the most practical approach. Each socket was essentially a multi-plug adaptor that appeared to be able to cater for everything from the one true plug to fiddly euro-sparkers.
I’m looking forward to my next visit, principally because the project we’re working on is a pretty exciting one. Let’s hope that next time the flight schedule will be a bit more Chris friendly.

Consistent security, please

19/08/2006

It’s naive to complain about security procedures at airports per se, but what airport authorities should avoid is inconsistent application of the rules or incompetent management of passengers.
I find the following things particularly irritating –
* Mobile phones not being put through the X Ray scanner
Some airports do it, some don’t. Sometimes it seems to depend which line you happen to be standing in. If it’s needed, enforce it. If it’s not, don’t do it all.
* Different measures for economy and business.
If it’s necessary to scan economy class passengers’ bags twice, why is this not applied to business and first class passengers?
* Telling passengers the wrong rules.
If I’m asked to put all my electronics in my main bag and check in what would otherwise be hand luggage, so be it. If I then arrive at the gate and find noone else has had to so, it’s frustrating.
* Not enforcing a queue properly
If I have to stand in line, then so should others. On a recent trip a group of five men all dressed in blazers with a club badge on them were allowed to go to the front of the queue for no reason other than the fact that they looked a bit ‘official’. They weren’t officials, they were football referees.
Queuing obviously does not apply to the elderly, families or disabled people.
* Not doing one thing at a time
If my bag is still in the scanner and someone behind me has a question about whether they can take their antique African sword on board, have the ten minute argument with him after you’ve scanned my bag through.
* Not switching off the conveyor belt.
It can’t be hard to stop the scanner belt occasionally to avoid everyone’s laptop bags, duty free perfume and other fragile items cascading onto the floor, simply because the queue through the metal detector has been held up slightly.
Of course, none of these things is quite as infuriating as most passengers’ desire to crowd around the baggage belt so that you can’t see what’s coming and can’t pick your things up when they do arrive without collapsing in a heap on the trolleys jammed up next to, or just behind, your ankles.
Most Airport staff do their job extremely well in the face of difficult circumstances and trunculent travellers. Hopefully as people get used to the tougher regimes we all face now, things will get a bit more passenger friendly.

Press the hash/number/pound key to join the call

17/08/2006

I was on a conf call with a customer today who was dialing in from his office in Europe. He rang me to say he didn’t understand the message that the automated conf call system plays. Entering the code for the call was clear, but what he was wondering what to do when he was asked to ‘press the pound key’.
US English speakers will know that the pound sign is the ‘#’ key. British English speakers would be staring at their phones looking for a key with ‘£’ on it. In England we’d call that the ‘number sympbol’ or maybe the ‘hash key’.
I don’t know what the best way would be for the phone company to internationalise their instructions. I suspect it’d be easier to ask users to type a series of numbers (1234, for example) rather than to ask them to press a key that doesn’t have a name that’s readily understood by all English speakers, both native and non-native.

Ignore that last text message

15/08/2006

The joystick on my Sony phone isn’t working properly – something which seems to plague most Sony users I know. It drove me crazy when on my last phone as well and the design doesn’t seem to have been improved.
The result is that when clicking down to select a recently contacted number to send a text to, a number might accidentally get selected instead of scrolled past.
So, if you’re a friend, partner or customer and get a text message from me in the evening along the lines of ‘Night night, love you very much’, rest assured it was meant for Mrs Saul and not for you. Unless you’d just been on the phone with news of a large Sun Ray or SGD order.